Over the last several days, Donald Trump has regularly mixed somewhat cryptic remarksinto his daily press events about someone making the decision long ago to not protect the United States against COVID-19. On Thursday, Trump got more specific. In the midst of bragging about his spectacular response to the pandemic, Trump claimed:We started off with bad, broken tests, and obsolete tests bequeathed to him by the Obama administration.
CNNs Jim Acosta, given thechance to ask a question, followed up to inquire just how it was possible that Obama could have provided Trump with broken tests for a virus that had not even been discovered until December of last year. Both China and WHO developed tests for SARS-CoV-2 in January, and the WHO tests were available around the world. But the United Statesspent all of that month and February fumbling around with a test that first generated bad results, then was finally available in extremely limited quantities. That testing gap allowed COVID-19 to establish itself on both U.S. coasts almost undetected, with hundreds or even thousands of cases circulated at a time when the official numbers listed only dozens.
Trumps response to how it was that Obama reached through time to provide bad tests for avirus that was completely unknown when he left office?”We hadbroken tests, said Trump. We had tests that were obsolete. We had tests that didn’t take care of people.” With that nonsense answer, Trump hustled back to bragging on the spectacularity of his outstandingly great response.
But of course, a gigantic disaster requires a gigantic scapegoating operation. Trump may not have lifted a finger to plan for the novelcoronavirus, and he may feel like testing is something that has to be left the states, but when it comes to OperationFind Me A Scapegoat, Trump is engaging every aspect of the federal government.
That includes not just forcing the intelligence community to investigateChina-related conspiracy theoriesalong with ways to tie Joe Biden to the origins of the virus, but launching full speed ahead on retaliating against China before its proven that there is something to retaliate against.
Its not as if China has done nothing wrong. Both local and national officialsdefinitely did cover up the outbreak of novel coronavirus during the first weeks of December. China definitely did persecute doctors who tried to speak up about the first cases that came stumbling into Wuhan emergency rooms toward the end of the month. China did fail to warn people in the region, meaning that Wuhan went ahead with aLunar New Year banquet attended by about 40,000 familieswhich was likely the cluster event that really sparked the outbreak, then epidemic, then pandemic.
China does not have clean hands in any sense when it comes to COVID-19.And China has since engaged in a game of matching conspiracy theories, responding to every claim that COVID-19 was generated in a Chinese biolab with claims that the virus could have originated from a U.S. lab atFort Detrick, Maryland.
Both the biolab conspiracy theories are just thatconspiracy theories. Careful examination of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has revealed no evidence that it was in any sense modified by humans. Instead, it appears to be closely related to other coronaviruses thatmade the trek from bats to humans through some other host. In fact, cases in which both cats and dogs have come down with COVID-19 indicates that the virus can infect a very wide range of mammals. The chain between bats and people may have more than one link.
The truth is that China did try to cover up the early days of COVID-19, likely out of concern forcreating a dent in their own economy and providing an issue that could be fodder for dissidents. But the truth is also that by the end of December, China was forced to fess up to the World Health Organization and seek help in dealing with the fast-growing outbreak. Throughout January, China regularly produced updates on the situation and the WHO produced daily situational reports. China provided samples of the virus within days of that first announcement and the genetic sequence of the virus was established within a week.
In one of his first appearances to discuss the virus on Jan. 24, Trump had nothing but high praise for his old golf-and-cake buddyXi Jinping and for the efforts of the Chinese government. He followed up with this tweet:
China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi! Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 24, 2020
The Trump went back to playing golf and holding rallies right up until the first week of March, by which point the explosive growth of cases within the United States, fostered by an utter lack of testing, was unstoppable.
Since then, Trumps sudden need for someone else to take the fall has resulting in cutting off all funding to the World Health Organization in the midst of a global pandemican act that might be slotted into the dictionary under crimes against humanity. Trump has also made it clear that he now wants to thank President Xi by taking action against China. But its absolutely unclear just what kind of action Trump intends to take.
Trumps White House dream teamincluding the brain trust of Jared Kushner, Mike Pompeo, and Stephen Millerare seeking out ways that China might be punished. That hasincluded coughing up such thoughts as removing Chinas sovereign immunity, an act that would go a long way toward completing Trumps previous efforts to make the U.S. into a rogue nation. Or the U.S. could simply declare some of those trillions in U.S. bonds that China is holding to be worthless, which would probably have the result of taking the U.S. economy and burying it a mile deep. Or the U.S. could demand that China pay reparations. That last option is likely the best, because it would only result in in the world finding the Trump White House ridiculous, and thats already a done deal.
COVID-19 is a devastating pandemic that is going to kill hundreds of thousands and signal the end of over a decade of economic growth both in the U.S. and around the world. However, it need not be a true black swan event in the sense of representing a disruption that sets back world progress and triggers a cascade of additional disasters, including a genuine economic collapse.
It doesnt have to be that bad. But Donald Trump is doing everything he can to make it that bad.